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THE LAST HOPE OF MAN ON EARTH -
THE LOCAL CHURCH

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord's Day Evening, July 11, 2004
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41).

"And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).


Baptists are Scripturally correct on two main theological points - the doctrine of baptism by immersion of true converts, and the doctrine of the primacy of the local church. On these two points Baptists differ from Protestants and Catholics. The Catholics believe in infant baptism, which they say regenerates the infant's soul. We strongly disagree with them on this point. The Protestant denominations, for the most part, also believe in sprinkling infants, which they say brings the baby into the "covenant" of the church. As Baptists, we disagree. We say that baptism pictures what has happened to a convert: his union with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Therefore we believe that baptism must be administered only to those who show the outward signs of union with Christ in true conversion. The baptism of an unconverted person is unscriptural and therefore invalid.

Second, we as Baptists disagree with the Catholics and Protestants on the primacy and absolute authority of each local church. Therefore we do not believe in a universal, mystical Catholic or universal church. The New Testament teaches that Christ and the Apostles organized local churches - and nothing else. The Catholics teach that people are united to their church by infant baptism and later are confirmed into the mystical universal Catholic Church. Protestants of all denominations have more or less followed the Catholics on this matter. The baby is sprinkled and later confirmed as a member of the universal church. That is their position. Baptists disagree with it.

This does not mean that we think there has never been a converted Catholic or Protestant. Martin Luther certainly was converted while still a member of the Catholic Church. Wesley and Whitefield were converted while still members of the Church of England, which, like the Catholics, emphasizes the mystical union of all believers in a "universal church." The Congregationalists and Presbyterians also follow this teaching, which is derived from Catholicism. John Knox was a Presbyterian and Jonathan Edwards was a Congregationalist. Both of these men were converted, but both of them were wrong about baptism. Unlike these Protestants, Baptists reject the whole idea of sprinkling a baby so that it may gain entrance into a "universal church" of all believers.

Both of these Baptist doctrines (believer's baptism by immersion, and the primacy of the local church) are rapidly being embraced in the Third World, where Christians are under great persecution today. In places of persecution like Cuba, Sudan, and China, believer's baptism, learned from the Baptists, takes precedence over the old Catholic and Protestant ideas of infant baptism (known as pedobaptism). In places of persecution, like Pakistan, India, the nations of Africa, and especially Indochina and China itself, the "underground" churches have embraced the Baptist view of the local church. These people have been forced by persecution to adopt the Baptist view of the primacy and authority of the local church - and to give up the fanciful Catholic/Protestant view of an invisible universal church. The sheer pressure of persecution has driven these Christians to adopt the two cardinal Baptist distinctives: baptism of adult converts on profession of faith, into the fellowship of local churches.

These local churches are often called "house churches" in the Orient, Cuba, Africa and other places where Christians are a persecuted minority. I am glad that this is so - because Baptists have always been Scripturally correct concerning believer's baptism by immersion and membership and fidelity to a local church. Which brings us back to our two texts,

"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41).

"And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).

From these two verses we learn several doctrines, which I believe are highly important today.

I. First, these verses show that the local church began before Pentecost.

Dr. John R. Rice said,

There is very widespread understanding that the church began at Pentecost. That is remarkable, particularly since the Bible never mentions anything of the kind! I think that idea, that the church was formed at Pentecost, comes from at least three errors.

1. A misunderstanding of what the church is.

2. A misunderstanding of Pentecost and what happened there.

3. A misunderstanding of some Scriptures, particularly I Corinthians 12:13, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

We believe that the church could not have been formed at Pentecost. Our Catholic friends have led the world wrong on the meaning of the word church. In the Encyclopedia Britannica, a Catholic scholarsays, "A more technical definition [of church] would be as follows: the church instituted by Jesus Christ is the visible society of men who, having received baptism, united in the profession of the same faith in one communion [denomination], and are seeking the same spiritual end under the authority of the Roman pontiff [pope], the successor of Peter, and of the bishops who are in union with him."

All the major Protestant denominations which have a connectional system in the ministry, an episcopacy or hierarchy, are in this matter patterned after Rome. The idea of one world-wide society visible to men being called a church is utterly foreign to Bible usage. The word church in the Bible never refers to a denomination. It never refers to the sum of the denominations joined togetherTo understand what the Bible teaches, we must rid ourselves of the idea of a denomination or group of denominations in connection with the word church.

The little Greek word ekklesia, translated church in the New Testament, simply means a called-out assemblySo a local congregation of Christians isa church. The word [church] is used referring to local congregations about ninety times in the New Testament (Dr. John R. Rice, A Verse-by-Verse Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Sword of the Lord, 1980 reprint, pp. 62-63).

The New Testament does not speak of an invisible, universal, or Catholic church. It speaks of local congregations of called-out believers in Jesus Christ. The Bible makes that clear over and over again.

With that in mind, it becomes clear that "the church" did not begin at Pentecost. The church began when Jesus started calling men to follow Him, as we read in the four gospels.

By the time of His ascension back to Heaven, there were 120 members of the church Christ had worked to build. Acts 1:15 tells us that

"the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty" (Acts 1:15).

This shows that a local church was already established before the Day of Pentecost. There were already 120 people. Their very names were known by the leaders. They had a membership roll. They had been called out of the world, and had been baptized, and were members of this local church. Furthermore, this church had a name. It was called, "the church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1).

Instead of being the "birthday of the church," the Day of Pentecost was actually a specimen case of revival. The Day of Pentecost market the first revival in the local church at Jerusalem. Peter preached the gospel,

"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41).

"There were added." Dr. Albert Garner correctly says, "One cannot 'add to' something that does not exist" (Dr. Albert Garner, The Church Jesus Built, Blessed Hope Foundation, n.d., p. 18).

After the revival at Pentecost, people were converted, baptized and added to the local church at Jerusalem.

"And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).

These verses show that the local church at Jerusalem began before Pentecost - and people were added to this local church by conversion, followed by baptism.

II. Second, these verses show that the church is a local assembly.

Dr. Albert Garner correctly says,

A New Testament church is a local, visible assembly of God's people who are saved and scripturally baptized, associating together in some definite locality for the purpose of carrying out the Lord's Commission. The term "church" is derived from two Greek words that are Anglicized into "ecclesia," meaning "called out," or a called out assembly (Dr. Albert Garner, Defense of the Faith, Bogard Press, 1997, p. 115).

Dr. Garner points out that there are many local churches listed in the New Testament:

1. The church at Jerusalem, Acts 8:1.

2. The church at Damascus, Acts 9:18-19.

3. The church at Antioch, Acts 11:26; 13:1; 13:26-28.

4. The churches - a plurality, Acts 13:23; 16:5.

5. The church of God at Corinth, I Corinthians 1:2.

6. The churches in Macedonia, II Corinthians 8:1.

7. The seven churches in Asia, Revelation 1:4, 20;
 I Corinthians 16:19.

8. The churches of the Gentiles, Romans 16:4.

9. The churches of Galatia, I Corinthians 16:1.

If you look up the verses that are listed you will see that the New Testament does not teach that the church is a universal, invisible, mystical "church" made up of all that are saved. The idea of the church as a universal, mystical body is a Roman Catholic doctrine. The great Protestant denominations broke away from the Catholic Church over the doctrine of justification by faith, rather than salvation through the "Sacraments." But the Protestant denominations kept the Catholic idea that the church is a universal, invisible thing.

The Baptists have been called the most radical of the Reformers. The Baptists insisted on conversion followed by immersion baptism. The Baptists also discarded the Catholic concept of the universal, mystical church. The Baptists said,

Each congregation is a complete church in itself. It is therefore not correct to speak of The Baptist Church. There is no such thing. There are thousands of Baptist churchesbut these congregations are not combined in any way so as to make one great Baptist Church. There are many trees in the forest, but there is no such thing as THE TREEWhen we say "the husband" or "the wife" we do not mean that there is one great HUSBAND composed of all the husbands, and when we say "the wife" we do not mean a large WIFE composed of all the wives. Even so, when we speak of the [Great] Commission being given to "the church," we do not mean a great Universal Church, but we mean each individual congregation (Ben M. Bogard, The Baptist Way Book, p. 14).

"All New Testament churches were local, visible congregations with work to do, duties to perform, ordinances to carry out in a visible way" (Garner, Defense of the Faith, ibid., page 118).

These are doctrines which I have believed for many years. Some call me a "Landmark Baptist" for believing these doctrines. So be it. Put me down as "Landmark" when it comes to these doctrines concerning the local church and its primacy. Why? Because that's what the Bible teaches!

"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them [the church at Jerusalem] about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41).

"And the Lord added to the church [at Jerusalem] daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).

III. Third, these verses reflect the joy and fellowship of the local church.

They "gladly received" Peter's preaching. They were "added" to this local church at Jerusalem. They shared all things in common with each other, because they were under great persecution. They were forced out of their homes and jobs for becoming Christians, but they came together and helped each other in that local church. In many parts of the world where Christians are under severe persecution, they do things like this even today. They helped each other. They loved each other. They broke bread together. They had meals together "from house to house" (Acts 2:46a). They ate meals "with gladness and singleness [sincerity] of heart" (Acts 2:46b).

What a happy, joyful place this local church at Jerusalem was! They didn't just "go to church" once a week for an hour or so! They were the church - every day of the week! That's what I believe in! That's the way a local New Testament Baptist church is supposed to be - a happy group of people who love each other so very much that you can't walk in the door without realizing, "This church has got something I want! This is a place where people love each other!"

You can't get that in a mystical, invisible, universal "church"! You can't get that by "church hopping" from one place to another! You can't get that by watching a "church" service on TV, or by reading the Bible on your own, or listening to a tape of some guy teaching somewhere, or by reading a sermon on the computer - even this sermon! You've got to come in - and become a part of a local church, a real church! That's why we say repeatedly, "Why be lonely? Come home - to church! Why be lost? Come home - to Jesus Christ, the Son of God!"

You can't come to our church without somebody handing you a plate of food! You can't come to our church without several people huddling around you and talking to you. You can't leave our church, when the service is over, without going through a horde of people gathered on the sidewalk continuing to have fellowship, for a half hour (or sometimes nearly an hour) outside, after the fellowship is through inside!

That's the way I think a local church should be - as close to the way they were in the church at Jerusalem as possible! And I think that's what Jesus meant when He said,

"Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled" (Luke 14:23).

Compel them to come in and hear the gospel. Yes, I will preach on Hell and judgment. Yes, I will preach on salvation through the Blood atonement of Christ alone. Yes, I will not pull any punches. Compel them to come in for the preaching - the kind of preaching God uses to convert people.

Compel them to come in to the warmth and love of the local church as well. Those who feel loved will stay. Those who feel loved will surrender to Christ. Moody said, "Love them in." Was he wrong on that? Of course not! He was absolutely right on that point!

It's love that people need today. They are lonely, and they need to feel loved. They are sad, and they need to be cheered up! They have no real friends. They need the local church! Spread the message! We will love you here. We will love you until you come to an end of your rebellion against God, and submit your soul to Jesus Christ. We will love you in to the church, and we will love you into Christ. Why? Because

"We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God"
      (II Corinthians 5:20).

Why be lonely? Come home - to church! Why be lost? Come home - to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!

Stand with me and sing the last song on your song sheet. Sing it good and loud!

I've wandered far away from God, Now I'm coming home;
The paths of sin too long I've trod, Lord, I'm coming home.
Coming home, coming home, Never more to roam,
Open wide Thine arms of love, Lord, I'm coming home.
   ("Lord, I'm Coming Home" by William J. Kirkpatrick, 1838-1921).

(END OF SERMON)

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Acts 2:41-47.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"Lord, I'm Coming Home" (by William J. Kirkpatrick, 1838-1921).

THE OUTLINE OF

THE LAST HOPE OF MAN ON EARTH -
THE LOCAL CHURCH

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41).

"And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).

I.   These verses show that the local church began before
Pentecost, Acts 1:15; 8:1.

II.  These verses show that the church is a local assembly,
Acts 8:1; 9:18-19; 11:26; 13:1, 26-28, 23;
Acts 16:5; I Corinthians 1:2; II Corinthians 8:1;
Revelation 1:4, 20; I Corinthians 16:19;
Romans 16:4; I Corinthians 16:1.

III. These verses reflect the joy and fellowship of the local
church, Acts 2:46; Luke 14:23; II Corinthians 5:20.

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."